Alexandra Chiyo Matsu: Oswego's Own Elizabeth Bennett

It should first be noted that Alexandra Chiyo Matsu is the kind of person who stopped in the middle of answering a question to say, “I’m sorry. I was thinking about ravioli.” Alex loves plants, friendly company, and making people laugh. She’s warm, thoughtful, and so genuinely pure and sincere it’s hard not to get literal heart eyes when she’s around. She’s also the kind of person who accidentally switches accents and then can’t find her normal voice, as happened during my first question. I sat down with this 20-year old musical theatre major to talk about everything Pride and Prejudice, as she’ll be starring in the upcoming SUNY Oswego production as Elizabeth Bennet.

What is different about Oswego’s upcoming adaptation of Pride and Prejudice?

The director’s concept for the show was that it will be Pride but with contemporary beats.

Like The Great Gatsby?

Yes, exactly. We have this modern score. TJ, our sound designer, has orchestrated all this dance music for the balls. It’s the correct music time period, but with a beat. It has like a snare drum underneath it; it’s really poppy and it’s good. A lot of the girls are going to have modern hairstyles and even some color in their hair. And the ways in which the boys are cutting their hair… they’re going to have a lot of fades and the sides are going to be cut and it’s going to be very modern. But then we’ll still have all the old clothes.

Plus, it was important to us to point out all the moments of sexism in the play. You can’t stage a play, especially one where the story is about subtle feminism, and point out individual moments of sexism. You can’t make the play a feminist play. You instead have to highlight and focus on sexism in the story and in the situation. That’s how you can point out what’s wrong about it. So, in terms of this adaptation being different than SUNY Canton or SUNY Plattsburgh, every director’s concept is going to be different and every show will be different, but I like to think that ours has a certain rhythm to it.

What drew you to Pride and Prejudice?

I’ve always loved this story. Like, I’m so in love with the 2005 movie, then I watched the mini-series, and I read the book. I had like a brief Jane Austen tween phase and really, who didn’t? The idea of this family that is so hysterical is very similar to my family. I like how the characters change. They all impact each other. As an actor, it’s so wonderful to go through that journey. It’s teaching me things and it’s teaching me to be kinder and more accepting and I like that.

What about Elizabeth do you most relate to?

She is a really angry person, at least in our script. Maybe not in the book so much, but in our particular show she’s very angry. She knows things that other people don’t know and it makes her angry that other people are so ridiculous. It makes her embarrassed for herself and her family that her mother and her sisters are so ridiculous and that the people around her are so incredibly rude without even knowing it. And as a feminist, and a modern woman, there will always be instances where you’ll look at something and be like, how can you not get this? How can you be so blind? So, with Elizabeth, I love that she’s clued in around her, but misses something so big as a man falling in love with her. To the point that she thinks that he hates her, and hates him in return. She’s so blind and she’s so stupid. And I love having the realization that I am loved.

Would you rather make out with Darcy, Wickham, or Bingley?

Darcy! Darcy 100%. Darcy in the book, Darcy in the movie, Darcy in the play. But also Sean Ryan. Gorgeous boy.

Would you rather have a terrible singing voice or two left feet?

Why would you ask me that question? I need both of those things for my career! I guess if I had to pick… two left feet. You can sing on Broadway and not dance if you’re a really talented singer, but if you can’t sing… you’re not going to be on Broadway.

What has been your favorite role in an Oswego production, on or off stage?

Okay…um, it might be this. Because I love this show so much and I love the story and the characters. This has always been a dream role of mine. But also Spaces Pirates of the Planet Penzance? Where I played a maid robot and I had Heelys and silver face paint. That was pretty great, I’m not gonna lie.What’s one thing you’re interested in that you wish everyone knew about?

I wish people would sit down and watch movies with me. It’s like, “Oh hey we’re watching this movie, and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah I love this movie let’s do it.’” Or, we’ll be there and we’ll all make the decision together. But I’m the kind of person that’s wants you to watch this movie for this reason. And people will be like ‘no way.’ And honestly I’m selfish in that I just want all my friends to have all the time and sit down and watch all of my favorite things with me. So if that was a thing, I wish people would watch more movies with me that I wanted to watch and that I wanted them to watch.

What’s your favorite thing about yourself, physical or personality-wise?

I think something I like about myself is that I can be very charming and I can make people laugh. I always manage to be very entertaining. My least favorite thing is when I tell a story and then no one laughs. Or I’ll tell a story and I’ll realize halfway through that it isn’t funny. And I will lie to make it funnier. I like that I can make people laugh.

Who’s your favorite fictional character and why?

I almost want to say Elizabeth Bennet…wait no, there’s this book called The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which is my favorite book I’ve ever read. It’s about Jacob’s 11 biblical sons and his unheard-of daughter, who is real. And in the scripture and in the study of the Torah there’s actually a footnote that mentions he had a daughter, Dinah, and that she was raped. And that is literally all. And growing up in the Jewish faith, growing up in this culture, I’m constantly presented with this idea of what women are supposed to be and what women are good for. And I’m not trying to bash my own culture, but Jewish men tend to be very self-centered and Jewish women tend to be very giving. And they do all the work, you know, and the men just sit there while they do it all. And maybe that’s just an American or a cultural thing but it seems ingrained into our religion, into our culture. So, this book is about Dinah and what might have been and what her life might’ve been like. And it’s directly about all these Jewish women I knew growing up, who shaped our culture. We’re their descendants. With Judaism, there’s not a lot of leeway, you either marry in or you’re born into it (no one really joins it for the heck of it). So, you can imagine that you’re a descendent of the 11 sons of Jacob.

Anyway, all of Jewish women have been under-represented, but in The Red Tent, there’s Dinah. The novel is all about her whole life and her four mothers. Because Jacob had four wives and they all mothered and loved her. It’s about how she breaks away and gains her own freedom from her father and finally gains her own life with her own agency. It’s that kind of book where when you read it, you have to have a long talk with your mom after. And honestly, I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. So I love Dinah. She’s my favorite character. She just represents something very important to me. Which is the fact that Jewish women are valid. And the fact that Jewish women have stories that are historically worth telling. And Jewish women have shouldered each other for thousands of years and kept this religion going. So that’s why I liked that.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know before seeing Pride and Prejudice?

Tickets are $7 for students. . . kidding. But I would like them to come in with an open heart. For me, seeing a show as a person that studied theater, I’ll like sit through and judge everything and it’s so hard to turn off. Like I’ll think, ‘Oh missed that light cue,’ ‘look at that they messed up,’ ‘they stumbled through their line,’ ‘they did that wrong,’ ‘that’s interesting the way the set is moving,’ etc. I can’t turn it off. But this show is about reaction. If you could try your hardest to keep your heart and your mind open, I’m so involved in what my character is going through that I didn’t even realize that at the end of the first act, everyone hates Darcy! They hate him! I didn’t realize it until a friend watched a run-through and said, “Wow I hate Darcy!” And my heart was immediately like ‘No, don’t hate my love!’ Keep your heart open! Be ready to accept change. That’s what this show is about.Pride and Prejudice starts Thursday, April 20th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $7 for students. Come watch Alex in action! She’s really something. (Alex would also like to plug Soba noodles and stress that they are very delicious). Look at this cutie, aren’t you half in love with her already?